IMs, Emails and Calls—OH MY!

Category - Business, General
by Ann Holtzapple on January 15th, 2015

Wondering why you’re not getting as much done in a day as you should be? Distractions are abundant in the contemporary workplace, and staying on track can be a challenge. One way to close the gap between you and your productivity goals? Learn to manage email and instant messenger alert interruptions.

A Closer Look at the Research
Research from Microsoft on the subject of multitasking and computer users reveals eye-opening statistics. While the ability to switch tasks between open windows seems like a time-saver, it does not automatically mean that tasks will be completed more efficiently. Why not? Because research has shown that alerts — for example, notifications about incoming instant messages or emails — divert a user’s attention from one task to another. In doing so, they often lead to lengthy, unanticipated delays in resuming the original task.

According to the Microsoft study, employees spent approximately 10 minutes switched over to instant messenger or email following an alert. But that’s not all: they then moved onto other diversions (checking email, surfing the web) for an additional 10 to 15 minutes before returning to the initial task. This adds up to a loss of up to 25 minutes with every instant message or email alert. If that happens just once a day in one week, it totals 125 lost minutes — or just over two hours. Multiple daily incidents, then, have significant repercussions for office worker productivity.

And that’s just the average: in 27 percent of the cases, it took employees more than two hours to return to the original task. Workers attributed these lapses to forgetting about the original context of their work, and having to retrace their thought processes back to the beginning.

Even more enlightening? Research shows that avoiding multitasking not only makes us more effective, but even happier: research from The Energy Project, an HR consulting firm, indicates that employees who are able to focus on one task not only produce more, but also feel higher levels of contentment with their jobs.

So What Can You Do?
Aside from working in a vacuum, there are some things you can do to avoid letting message alerts take over your workday.

  • Hold Off
    Don’t answer alerts the minute you receive them. Instead, respond when you have reached a place in your task where you feel able to move on and return without losing your thought process.
  • Leave the Window Open
    Microsoft’s study determined that employees who left their original computer window open and visible when responding to an alert message were much more likely to remember the task and return to it in a timely way.
  • Use Undo
    Upon returning to your original window after responding to an alert, immediately use the “undo” function of whatever program you’re working in to review your last task. This can help jog your memory of what you were working on before the distraction.

Workers today are expected to be more efficient than ever thanks to the rise of productivity-enhancing technology. Unfortunately, these same advancements can actually have the opposite result. By maintaining awareness about potential pitfalls and using these distraction-busting techniques, you can enjoy enhanced productivity and greater fulfillment in your work life.

To learn more, check out our article, One Call Now, How it Works Guide.


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